Judges and court staff in Michigan must use parties’ preferred pronouns, the state’s highest court ruled Wednesday.
Under the new rule adopted by the Michigan Supreme Court, attorneys and litigants can list their “preferred salutations and personal pronouns” on court records that judges must abide by beginning on January 1, 2024, The Detroit News reported. The new rule was considered and debated at length before the court approved the rule by a 5-2 majority, making Michigan the first state to require judges to use parties’ preferred pronouns.
“We serve the entire public and are required to treat those who come before us with civility and respect,” said Democrat-nominated Justice Elizabeth Welch in her concurring statement. “The gender identity of a member of the public is a part of their individual identity, regardless of whether others agree or approve.”
The new rule states, “Parties and attorneys may also include Ms., Mr., or Mx. as a preferred form of address and one of the following personal pronouns in the name section of the caption: he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs. Courts must use the individual’s name, the designated salutation or personal pronouns, or other respectful means that is not inconsistent with the individual’s designated salutation or personal pronouns when addressing, referring to, or identifying the party or attorney, either orally or in writing.”
When a person’s preferred pronouns create grammatical confusion or errors, Welch wrote that it requires “more intentionality (and a bit of practice) for generations that grew up learning one language rule.”
Republican-nominated Justice David Viviano opposed the new rule change, arguing that it forces judges into “socially and politically fraught topics that have little to do with the judicial system.”
Justice Brian Zahra, who was also nominated by a Republican, wrote in a dissenting statement that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision, saying that the new rule will only divide the state.
“This proposed rule change is much worse than a solution in search of a problem; it is a directive that will undoubtedly inflame conflict and exacerbate the social division of the people of Michigan,” Zahra wrote, adding that it will invite “abuse by litigants eager to gain any measure of control over their fight,” according to The Detroit News.
As the rule was being considered, The Daily Wire reported that over a dozen Michigan judges and attorneys expressed concern for what the rule’s implications would mean for free speech and religious liberty. Michigan judges and attorneys wrote to the court, speaking out about the problematic amendment.
In an eight-page response to the proposed rule, William R. Bloomfield, general counsel for the Diocese of Lansing, said that it would be a direct violation of the First Amendment.
“In brief, requiring courts, i.e., judges, to use a person’s own designated personal pronouns is an unconstitutional violation of free speech and free exercise of religion,” he wrote, adding, “And as vital as the interest in free speech is for ordinary citizens, or groups of citizens, it is perhaps even more important for judges to be free of any compulsory speech.”
Michigan religious liberty attorney Timothy Denney told The Daily Wire in March that the rule “would violate the compelled speech principle.”
“The Michigan Supreme Court’s proposed rule to force judges to use attorney’s preferred pronouns violates the First Amendment,” Denney said. “The First Amendment prohibits government from compelling public officials to make statements contrary to their beliefs.”